Ian Baker continued to torment the UTEP Miners, scoring 24 points in his final game of the I-10 rivalry as NM State posted a 79-70 victory on Friday at the Pan American Center.
Baker made 8-of-14 shots, 6-of-10 three pointers and 2-of-2 free throws while adding four assists as NMSU (13-2) completed a sweep of the Miners (2-10), who nevertheless played much better the second time around.
“Congrats to the Aggies. They did a really nice job,” UTEP coach Tim Floyd said. “I thought they played with a lot of poise. Baker is a terrific guard. [Braxton] Huggins gives us fits.”
The Miners surprised NM State early by starting the game with a 10-0 run. The Aggies put together a 17-0 run of their own a little bit later, hitting five three-pointers to turn a 14-5 deficit into a 22-14 lead.
Trailing 38-30 at the half, UTEP scored the first six points of the second half to pull within two (38-36) on a Matt Willms dunk with 18:35 remaining. Willms scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half.
The Aggies scored the next 11 points, including eight from Baker, to match their biggest lead at 49-36 with 15:10 to go. The Miners hung around, cutting it to five with 11:45 left and seven in the final half-minute.
“I thought they adjusted to our zone, forced us to get out of our zone,” Floyd said. “We played probably more zone than what we would’ve liked to anyway. But overall they made shots when they needed to.”
Dominic Artis went over the 900-point mark for his career, finishing with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists. Omega Harris added 12 points, and Paul Thomas had eight points and seven rebounds.
The Miners matched the Aggies on the boards (28-28), and made four more field goals (29-25).
“I’m proud of a lot of things with our team,” Floyd said. “Generally when you’re playing zone that translates to you shooting more free throws. We didn’t get to the line enough. They got there 26 times playing man-to-man, we got there eight times playing zone and generally that’s flipped. We just didn’t get there enough tonight and we would’ve liked to have gotten there more.”
Despite their losing streak reaching nine games, the Miners are optimistic heading into Conference USA play, which starts on Sunday at UTSA.
“We are making strides because Matt Willms is playing at his best level this season and Paul Thomas is playing at his best level, and that’s a great thing,” Floyd said. “Our team showed resolve. We came out with poise to start the game. We’ve got a couple of players that are going to beat themselves up on some plays they’d like to have back, which is the case in every game. But we now have to get into league play and I trust that we’ll continue to get better.”
NM State received 17 points and 11 rebounds from Jemerrio Jones. Huggins scored 15 points and Eli Chuha added 13.
The Aggies shot 60 percent in the first half and 54.3 percent for the game and made 10-of-25 threes (7-of-15 in the first half). UTEP shot 49.2 percent.
“We’re shooting for a better percentage and we seem to have much more poise than what we had and more purpose,” Floyd said. “I think our guards are doing a better job of getting us into play offensively. We’ve got to continue to get better. We don’t have much time. We have a quick turnaround for the league opener. I have never had to flip the switch and go get into conference play this quick. This game probably should’ve been played last night versus tonight, in terms of what is in our best interest. We’ll be flying out tomorrow afternoon. But I’ll be curious to see how we go on the road and play.”
The Miners’ first three league games will be away from home, including matchups at Southern Miss and LA Tech next week. Tip-off for Sunday’s game is at 2 p.m. MT.